Every time the subject of sales and marketing alignment comes up it seems like everyone is in violent agreement (regardless of which discipline they come from) that this needs to be a priority and that the time has come, once and for all, for everyone to be on the same page—if not on the same team. Yet, this rarely seems to actually happen. So, year after year, sales and marketing alignment continues to be a conversation topic rather than a strategic imperative.
Why is it so hard to accomplish this alignment? If everyone agrees, it should happen. Still, very few attempt it. This is where I struggle because I don’t believe that this alignment is difficult at all. There seems to be a level of deliberate inaction. The reluctance seems to be born out of a fear of role dilution and the steady erosion of traditional lines of demarcation, resulting in the blurring of skill-sets and expertise.
In the traditional paradigm, everything was relatively neat and tidy. Marketing had its creative talents and distribution channels (mail, email, Web, conferences, etc.) and would create campaigns based on features and benefits. Then, the department would channel the responses or leads to the sales organization. The sales organization would then initiate contact and begin a sale cycle—very different skill-sets operating on two very different playing fields. Marketing was the king of the “one-to-many” communication and sales was king of the “one-to-one” communication.
However, to quote Bob Dylan, the times they are a changin’. The traditional channels for distributing marketing messages have been usurped. Social media, with its intense level of both personal outreach and self-selected communities, has created a world where firing off an email marketing campaign no longer has the same impact.
In this new paradigm, marketers have had to get up close and personal with the target audience and engage directly with them. They have had to become more adept at answering questions and providing information to that audience. The handover to sales is now less clean and defined because the prospect may be looking to gather a whole raft of information before they ever want to engage with a “salesperson.” So the marketer has to develop some selling skills and, at times, kick-off the sales process themselves. Actually, they may even complete the sale. Therefore, the lines, as you see, begin to blur significantly.
But what about the salesperson waiting for that hot lead from marketing? Well, their world, too, has forever been changed by social media and professional networking. If the marketer has kicked-off the sales process by engaging through non-traditional media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, then the sales rep needs to understand the history of that communication and be au fait with these media, including how prospect are using them. In essence the marketer and the salesperson need to work collaboratively and overlap like never before. Again, more lines are blurring.
The salesperson’s prospecting and engagement with prospects has also changed dramatically. Now that salespeople are required to prospect and engage through all these non-traditional media they have to produce provocative, sound-bite sized communications to try and catch the attention of well-informed prospects—who are also being deluged by information from their competitors, by the way. It sounds like the sales rep has developed some communication skills traditionally associated with marketing doesn’t it? The lines are so blurred now I can hardly see them!
So, is it really about sales and marketing alignment, or is it more about sales and marketing integration? If traditional workflows are being forever altered, what does this mean for traditional roles? Let’s face it: There are no more traditional sales and marketing roles–something to ponder as we head into 2015.
John Golden is author of Winning the Battle for Sales and Social Upheaval: How to Win @ Social Selling and chief strategy officer of CRM provider Piperlinersales.